Our Demagogue in South Korea

The Current Situation in Korea – 18 March 1948, Declassified CIA Memo:

The reports starts of with the following summary:

US strategic interests would be seriously affected by the absorption of Korea into the Soviet orbit. The current political, economic, and military situation in the US and Soviet Zones, respectively, makes it unlikely that any government erected in South Korea under UN auspices could long survive the withdrawal of US forces unless it were to receive continuing and extensive US economic, technical, and military aid. Present indications are that a government dominated by the Extreme Rightists under Rhee Syngman will emerge from the forthcoming UN-observed elections. Such a regime, if left to itself, would be incapable of withstanding ideological and military pressure from North Korea. On the other hand, any unconditional US commitments to such a potentially unpopular and unreliable government might be a source of future embarrassment to US policy in the Far East.

Then it describes Rhee as a “collaborator” and a “demagogue bent on autocratic rule”:

The tactics of the Left inevitably forced an immediate reaction from the Right. The leadership of this group of parties is provided by that numerically small class which virtually monopolizes the native wealth and education of the country. Since it fears that an equalitarian distribution of the vested Japanese assets would serve as a precedent for the confiscation of concentrated Korean-owned wealth, it has been brought into basic opposition with the Left. Since this class could not have acquired and maintained its favored position under Japanese rule without a certain minimum of “collaboration,” it has experienced difficulty in finding acceptable candidates for political office and has been forced to support imported expatriate politicians such as Rhee Syngman and Kim Koo. These, while they have no pro-Japanese taint, are essentially demagogues bent on autocratic rule. Acceptance of this extremist leadership has forced the Right to discard its more moderate elements and has served to widen the gulf between the two opposing camps.

Using the police to terrorize the Left:

The enforced alliance of the police with the Right has been reflected in the cooperation of the police with Rightist youth groups for the purpose of completely suppressing Leftist activity. This alignment has had the effect of forcing the Left to operate as an underground organization since it could not effectively compete in a parliamentary sense even if it should so desire.

And ends with an acknowledgement that the Rhee government will be labeled “corrupt, reactionary, and oppressive” and would never survive were it not for US support. So we sided with the “demagogue”.

An early election in South Korea will result in a Rightist sweep and in the probable formation of a government headed by Extreme Rightist Rhee Syngman since the Left will boycott the elections and the Moderates will be loath to participate too actively without a full US guarantee of the independence of the future government. (The Moderates are, however, masking their basic feelings of insecurity by raising the specious objection that the elections will encourage “separatism.”) On the basis of Rhee’s past record and present conduct, it is probable that a Rhee Government, if left to its own devices, would play directly into Soviet hands. Soviet propaganda would be provided with a substantial basis in fact for charging the regime with being corrupt, reactionary, and oppressive. By discrediting itself with the South Korean population, such a regime would facilitate the task of the KPA in “liberating” South Korea following the withdrawal of US forces. At this juncture Rhee would probably look to the US for support. The US might then be faced with the choice of giving aid and comfort to a discredited, unpopular regime while risking the censure of world opinion; or of withdrawing its support in response to moral pressure and face the charge of breaking another promise in the Far East.

Rhee would rule South Korean from 1948 – 1960. He was finally ousted from power by the the student-led April Revolution who opposed Rhee’s autocratic rule, corruption, use of violence against political opposition. As protesters converged on the presidential palace, the CIA covertly flew him out to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he spent the rest of his life in exile.

We protected the demagogue till the very end!

So let’s now move to June 1950, where John Foster Dulles delivered a speech to the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea at Seoul:

The American people salute the Korean nation. We honor the valiant struggle you are making for liberty—human liberty and national liberty.

Today, the Korean people are in the front line of freedom, under conditions that are both dangerous and exciting. You emerged from over 40 years spent under Japanese militarism. But you have not emerged into conditions of placid ease. Instead, you encounter a new menace, that of Soviet communism.

Some observers felt that your task was a hopeless one. You have proved them to be wrong. Your faith and your works have confounded the skeptics. You have already held two general elections in an atmosphere free of terrorism, and a very high percentage of all eligible voters have participated. Out of your electoral processes, has come a stable and representative government. You have developed a strong, disciplined, and loyal defense establishment. Through hard work, you are steadily improving your country’s economic condition.

There is solid ground for encouragement. No doubt, there are difficult days ahead and many problems yet unsolved, some internal, some external. But what has already happened shows that it lies within your power to achieve the goal of a Korea that is strong and free.

You are conducting what may go down in history as the Great Korean Experiment, an experiment which, in its way, can exert a moral influence in the twentieth century as profound as that which, in the nineteenth century, was exerted by what was then called the Great American Experiment. That is why the eyes of the free world are fixed upon you. You carry the hopes and aspirations of multitudes.

And now for the kicker:

The American people welcome you as an equal partner in the great company of those who comprise the free world, a world which commands vast moral and material power and resolution that is unswerving. Those conditions assure that any depotism which wages aggressive war dooms itself to unutterable disaster.

The free world has no written charter, but it is no less real for that. Membership depends on the conduct of a nation itself; there is no veto. Its compulsions to common action are powerful, because they flow from a profound sense of common destiny.

You are not alone. You will never be alone so long as you continue to play worthily your part in the great design of human freedom.

John Foster Dulles would become Secretary of State from 1953 – 1959. His brother, Allen Welsh Dulles would become CIA Director from 1953 – 1961.

So, we have the CIA documents showing you the truth about the nascent South Korean government and then you have the propaganda campaign waged by the State Department. Both of these agencies were lead by brothers!


Thanks for reading,


CIA Memo: https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000258335.pdf

Foster’s speech can be found in Department of State Bulletin, July 3, 1950: https://archive.org/details/departmentofstat2350unit/mode/1up

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